People’s preferences for complex explanations (new study)

April 20th, 2017

Those who are keen on the principle of Occam’s Razor [“Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate” or “Plurality is not to be posited without necessity” or “Keep it simple”] may be surprised, perhaps even dismayed, by a new research project which hints at its unpopularity.

“[…] we find that people have a preference for complex explanations […]”

– explain Jeffrey C. Zemla, Steven Sloman, Christos Bechlivanidis and David A. Lagnado in a new report for Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (March 2017) entitled : ‘Evaluating everyday explanations’.

The team’s experimental research, using a corpus of diverse explanations from Reddit’s “Explain Like I’m Five” (and other online sources) revealed unexpected findings :

“A guiding principle in explanatory reasoning is that of Occam’s Razor: All things being equal, the simplest hypothesis should be preferred. Thus, we initially predicted a negative correlation between subjective complexity and explanation quality. Surprisingly, we observed a positive correlation, with explanations that were rated as more complex also rated as better explanations (R = .49, p =.03)”

Following on from this, the team have a proposal :

“We propose that this preference for complexity is driven by a desire to identify enough causes to make the effect seem inevitable.”

Advertisements for desserts – should they include bite marks?

April 17th, 2017

Those in the business of marketing desserts might be interested in new research from Donya Shabgard at the University of Manitoba, US, who has investigated, possibly for the first time, the influence of an advertisement’s dessert portrayal on consumer perceptions of desirability. Specifically, should advertisements show desserts with a bite taken out of them or not?

In a series of four experiments, participants were asked to rate faux ads which showed desserts either entire, cut, or with a bite taken out [see image]. The bitten dessert fared well, especially amongst those with dieting experience.

“These findings explain that the bitten dessert is percieved [sic] as more real and authentic in comparison to the cut and whole dessert, and, thus, these perceptions of realness resulted in its positive evaluations.”

.The author points out opportunities for further research :

“It would also be interesting to test whether the effect holds for other food products, such as burgers and pizza, or whether it is limited to desserts, or a certain type of dessert.”

See: Would you like a Bite? The Influence of an Advertisement’s Dessert Portrayal on Consumer Perceptions of Desirability by Donya Shabgard.

BONUS task [optional]: With regard to visual advertising media, which food products would you prefer not to see displayed with a bite already taken out?


Nicholas H. Wolfinger joins Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Social Scientists

April 14th, 2017

Nicholas H. Wolfinger has joined the The Luxuriant Flowing, Former, or Facial Hair Club for Social Scientists™ (LFFFHCfSS), a sibling club of the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS). He says:

I view my hair in the spirit of Samson of the Old Testament: If I cut my hair, I lose my writing prowess.

Nicholas H. Wolfinger, Ph.D, LFFFHCfSS
Professor, Department of Family and Consumer Studies
Adjunct Professor, Department of Sociology
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Towards irrational robots

April 13th, 2017

“How the mind really works? It often works irrationally. But, we argue in this paper, a bit of irrationality may supports [sic] survival and cognitive development.”

And furthermore, say authors Syed I. Ahson and Andrzej Buller in their chapter for Human-Computer Systems Interaction, Volume 60 of the series Advances in Intelligent and Soft Computing, irrational robots may go some way towards realistically emulating human beings. There are caveats however :

“Unfortunately, a robot designed to deliberately expose itself to inconveniences and dangers may be hardly welcomed by today’s corporate investors. The same undoubtedly applies to a robot that displays visible signs of indecisiveness. Nonetheless, we argue that such troublesome properties may be an unavoidable price to pay for a robot’s cognitive self-development up to a level beyond that which can be achieved by handcrafting or simulated evolution.”

See: ‘Toward Daydreaming Machines’ (additional material may be found here.)

Note: The team are somewhat dismissive of “speaking mascots” and “human-shaped reception-desk staff”

“Their ‘intelligence’ is nothing but a masquerade designed to impress laymen”

Airline Upgrade Guilt – an examination

April 10th, 2017

Do people with high levels of guilt-proneness tend to have a heightened sensitivity to injustices – what happens if they get an unexpected airline upgrade for example? This question has been examined by professor Anna S. Mattila and professor Lu Zhang of the School of Hospitality Management, The Pennsylvania State University, US along with professor Lydia Hanks at the Dedman School of Hospitality, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, US.

Their research paper: ‘Existential Guilt and Preferential Treatment : The Case of an Airline Upgradeis published in the Journal of Travel Research, September 2013 vol. 52 no. 5, pp. 591-599

“Using the context of an unexpected airline upgrade, we examined factors that influence an individual’s reaction when they are overrewarded compared to others: guilt-proneness and relationship to the other, underrewarded, individuals. Results demonstrated that for individuals high in guilt-proneness, satisfaction with the upgrade and behavioral intent may be qualified by a feeling of existential guilt when they receive benefits that others do not, particularly if they have a close relationship with those others.”

The findings have important implications for the hospitality, airline, and travel industries, say the authors :

“ … for customers high in guilt-proneness, receiving an expected upgrade may, in fact, have unintended negative results. Managers can use this information to make employees aware of the potential detrimental effects of rewarding or upgrading only one member of a party.”

The photo shows a Singapore Airlines suite : “How close is too close? You’ll never have to know”

[ Declaration of interest. The author of this post declares an interest, in that he has been the recipient of an unexpected airline upgrade. No perceptible increased levels of guilt ensued however, existential or otherwise.]